By John Goralski
For most of the season, Lincoln College coach John Wasielewski has challenged his defense. The Wildcats averaged nearly 80 points per game, but it was the defense that seemed to struggle.
So why was he forced to take an early timeout when his defense held UConn Avery Point to 0-for-9 shooting at the start of the first postseason contest? Because Lincoln’s offense was struggling for the first time this season.
“We couldn’t get any rhythm either,” Wasielewski said after a 66-52 loss ended his team’s season. “We just weren’t in our normal rhythm with our offense. We only scored 13 points in the first half, and we’re averaging 80 per game.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 27, sophomore co-captain Mat Correa was the only Wildcat to hit in the early minutes in Groton. He scored eight of his 10 points in the opening half, but Lincoln still only managed 13 points at the break. Luckily, the defense held UConn to just 25 points in the opening half.
“We really tried to stress defense over the last few weeks after that skid we had late in the season,” said the coach. “We knew we could score, but we wanted to beef up our defense. It showed tonight, but our shots didn’t fall to back it up.”
Co-captain Howell McFarlane credited youth and inexperience for Lincoln’s slow start. McFarlane led the offense with 13 points, but he entered halftime still waiting for his first points of the game.
“We only have five sophomores, and only four of us knew the playoff experience,” he said. “I think it was a little hard at first to get our freshmen into it. It was more of a jitters thing, but I’ll admit that I was nervous myself. Come the second half, we did a good job of shaking it off.”
The Wildcats battled after the break. Sean Douglas scored eight of his nine points, and Jordan Wright scored all five of his points in the second half. Kevin Smith and Tylon Holmes scored four points apiece during the second half surge with Holmes, McFarlane, and Correa each scoring dunks in the second half.
The Wildcats matched the Huskies, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the early deficit. With the loss, Lincoln finished the season with a 12-16 record. Still, Wasielewski applauded his team’s efforts.
“We were the only team in our division to beat Gateway College. We made the playoffs two years in a row, and nobody that came to our school before could say that,” said the coach. “It’s really special, especially with all our adversity. We have the smaller gyms, less practice time, and we’re always at a disadvantage. To do it last year with no home gym and to do it this year in a little better situation is something special. They got 12 wins to tie their own school record, and that’s an accomplishment.”
This season marked the first time in program history that the Wildcats secured back-to-back postseason berths, and Douglas, Smith, McFarlane, and Correa will leave the program with more wins than any players before them.
“All of them were over the 300-point mark this year, and Sean has been such a big rebounding presence. We haven’t had a guy like that down low since I’ve been here,” Wasielewski said. “They’ve really brought another dimension to our team. Howell brought an outside game. Mat developed into a nice, quick point guard that can go to the basket or shoot. We did as well as we did this year because we had the whole package—inside, outside, drive to the basket.”
McFarlane said that it was a team effort, and one that he’ll never forget.
“There were times when we wanted to kill each other, but that’s just being a family,” McFarlane said. “I’m going to remember that, no matter what adversity came to our program, no matter how many people came to cheer for us, I played for my team and my coach. We were never worried about who was in the stands. I was worried about my team.”
Even at the individual level, the Wildcats had unparalleled success. McFarlane finished the season ranked in the top 15 in the nation for three point percentage (42.7), and he hopes to continue Lincoln’s trend of graduating junior college players into the next level. He hopes to continue his playing days at Trinity College or Ramapo College in New Jersey next year.
The bar has been raised, and Wasielewski hopes that the next class is up for the challenge.
“Before, we were the bottom of the bottom,” he said. “Now, we can be counted on to be one of the middle teams in our division. It’s not a guaranteed win against us. We’ll fight to the end. You have to bring your A-game or we’ll come in and steal one. It’s been a long road to get here, but we did it.”